California veterans will be eligible for up to… $0 to cover their tuition under the new GI Bill. The figure, recently updated, is a striking reflection of the frustration many have had with the separation of tuition from fees in the process of calculating veterans’ educational benefits. The maximum benefits payable to veterans vary (pretty dramatically) by state, and are based on the highest resident, undergraduate public tuition and fees (respectively) charged in a state. But, as the Department of Veterans Affairs chart points out, California public colleges don’t charge resident undergraduate tuition. In lieu of tuition, they charge fees, and California veterans are in fact eligible to have up to $6,586.54 in fees covered per term under the new GI Bill. All of this is semantics (tuition versus fees) for veterans enrolled in undergraduate programs at public colleges, but for veterans hoping to apply their benefits to private colleges in California, the distinction being made here between tuition and fees matters. It means they’ll be able to apply $0 toward the tuition portion of a private college bill, and up to $6,586.54 toward the fee portion (and of course most private colleges heavily weight their costs on the tuition side of the ledger). It also means that private colleges in California may be less likely to enter into a federal matching program, the Yellow Ribbon Program, to cover the balance between what the standard veterans’ benefit covers and what private colleges charge. “Ultimately the fees in California work like tuition and the veterans administration ought to understand that,” said Jonathan Brown, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. “We actively encouraged a lot of our institutions who have skill in this area to apply to the Yellow Ribbon Program and to participate actively but I think what a lot of them are going to do is politely write back to the veterans department and say, 'Gee we’re sorry but times are very tight financially and you’ve put us in an unreasonable situation. And we’re sorry.' ” The new GI Bill goes into effect in August.
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